A retail employee in line for a store general manager’s position lost not only the promotion, but his job, as well, when he failed or refused to take a test because he could not provide a urine specimen as a result of “shy bladder syndrome.” The syndrome, or paruresis, makes it difficult for the individual to urinate in public restrooms. A federal district court in Ohio rejected the discharged employee’s ADA claim and granted summary judgment for the employer, concluding that even if the employee’s condition was protected by the ADA, he had not shown that he had ever made the Company aware of it prior to his dismissal, or had asked for an accommodation. Furthermore, he could not demonstrate the Company’s reliance on a violation of its substance abuse policy as the reason for his dismissal represented anything but an “honest belief” in his asserted misconduct, the court said. Lucas v. Gregg Appliances, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49660 (S.D. Oh., W. Div., April 15, 2015).
After working his way up to becoming an assistant manager, Plaintiff employee was approved for promotion to store general manager contingent on his passing a drug test and background screen.
Plaintiff reported to the clinic after consuming 40 ounces of soda, he said, where a technician asked him to provide a urine specimen in a restroom with the door closed. After five minutes he came out, saying he could not comply, and telling the technician he had shy bladder syndrome. Asking for a second chance, he was allowed to consume five large glasses of water and to wait about an hour and one-half before making a second attempt. Again, he was unable to produce a specimen.
The technician told Plaintiff he still had an hour and 45 minutes remaining in which he could provide a specimen, and that leaving before his time expired would be considered a refusal or failure to test, but Plaintiff left anyway, saying he was unable to wait and would reschedule the test through his employer.
Plaintiff went directly to work, about five minutes from the clinic, where he was able to urinate right away. He told his immediate supervisor that he had been unable to provide a specimen at the clinic, but did not mention shy bladder syndrome. His supervisor reminded him he would have to pass the drug test.
Shortly thereafter, the clinic reported to the employer’s representative for its drug testing program that Plaintiff had not provided a specimen; however, its communication did not mention his explanation of shy bladder syndrome. Management officials discussed the matter in an effort to determine what action to take. Although the Plaintiff’s immediate supervisor was in favor of giving him another chance, the employer representative concluded this “is considered a positive in our books,” asking the vice president of human resources how she would like to proceed. Following further discussion, the vice president decided Plaintiff should be terminated. At the time, she had no knowledge that Plaintiff had an asserted disability or impairment; he had never communicated such a problem to any Company official. Meanwhile, Plaintiff had sought to schedule another urinalysis drug test at the clinic.
Two days after visiting the clinic, Plaintiff was terminated. Only afterward did he tell management that he had been coping with a shy bladder syndrome for years, and offer to take another, alternative drug test (e.g., blood, hair). The offer was rejected. Plaintiff filed suit.
The court granted the Company summary judgment. The court found that Plaintiff failed to show the vice president of human resources knew or should have known about his claimed disability. She knew only that he had left the clinic without providing a sample. The fact that he told his supervisor after his visit to the clinic he had been unable to provide a specimen did not amount to communicating that he had an impairment. Neither did Plaintiff provide any basis for attributing knowledge to any other Company employee of his inability to provide urine on request, the court found. Furthermore, he did not request to take an alternative test until after he was terminated; he merely attempted to schedule a second urinalysis test.
These circumstances also undermined Plaintiff’s allegation that the Company failed to accommodate his claimed disability. The court concluded that asking to take a second urine drug test prior to his termination offered no basis for the Company to suspect that this request was related in any way to a repeated on ongoing condition. That Plaintiff drank water at the collection site water and waited to try again to provide a specimen, and attempted to schedule a second urine test the following day, belied his argument that the Company refused to make a reasonable accommodation, it said.
Finally, the court concluded Plaintiff could not demonstrate that the Company’s non-discriminatory explanation for his dismissal was pretextual. He was unable to show, under Sixth Circuit law binding on this court, that the Company did not hold an “honest belief” in the correctness of its action. Plaintiff could not gainsay “its reasonable reliance on the particularized facts before it at the time the decision was made,” regardless of whether it later turned out the Company’s reason was mistaken. In the court’s opinion, he produced no evidence that the vice president of human resources who ordered his termination “did not make a reasonably informed and considered decision” that Plaintiff had failed to provide a urine specimen when required, and further, that this constituted a refusal to submit under the Company’s policy.